MELBOURNE - Temple Beth Sholom installed Rabbi Craig Mayers as its new spiritual leader last month.
Rabbi Mayers has been a member of Beth Sholom for more than 15 years and was picked by the temples leadership and members to be trained as its new spiritual leader after a national search, making him the synagogue's first rabbi chosen from within its congregation.
His official duties as rabbi started Feb. 1.
Rabbi Mayers has been married for 27 years to his wife, Terry, and has three sons, all of whom attended Religious School and became Bat Mitzvah at Temple Beth Sholom.
The temple's leadership had all the data and criteria they needed for what they wanted in their next rabbi. Rabbi Mayers was put through the same process as all the other prospective rabbis, despite being known in the congregation.
“I had an interview and an audition weekend. Initially, they said ‘no’ and their reason for that was that there wasn’t a clear vision on how to move forward. The traditional seminaries take years and years. I wasn’t about to pick up and move my family to New York and then move back here and hope there was a job waiting for me,” Rabbi Mayers said.
Rabbi Mayers carefully considered not only the best course of action to take for his family, but also for the congregation in which he intended to lead.
“A combination of finding an online program and finding a mentor rabbi in South Florida was what finally sealed the deal,” Rabbi Mayers said. “Just before they were going to start of new search process in 2017, I presented the proposal to the board and said, 'Give it a year, let me go through the schooling, and if you don’t like what you see after that, start your search.' So here I am,”
Rabbi Mayers will continue his education as rabbi with Internet courses designed to provide him with the core fundamentals of education needed to facilitate his role of rabbi for Beth Sholom. As a member of the congregation, he has an extensive record of service at Temple Beth Sholom that includes leading religious services, educating, playing the piano, mentoring the Jewish youth and also serving in the synagogue leadership.
“I think a rabbi never stops learning anyway,” Rabbi Mayers said. “But I am taking distance learner courses so I can stay here and tend to the congregation.”
What Rabbi Mayers intends to focus on as rabbi will further the synagogue’s deep heritage but also mold to the modern age. Temple Beth Sholom is the oldest Jewish congregation in Brevard County but, as Rabbi Mayers believes, that does not make it immune to implementing newer ideas.
In terms of goals, Rabbi Mayers has a clear vision.
“In one word it would be growth. That word can be applied to both our existing membership and the community at large,” Rabbi Mayers said. “I want us as a beacon for all things Jewish on the Space Coast: Hebrew learning, history, prayers, social. We really fulfill three missions here. One is the spiritual; coming here for prayers and lifecycle events. One is learning; lifelong learning starting with the kids in kindergarten through adulthood, never stop learning. The third is social; fellowship and coming together for fun events,”
He sees the potential for the Jewish population in the area to become more involved in their religious practices. Rabbi Mayers has a deep respect for the traditions and roots of his home congregation, but would also like to implement ideas he feels will meet them half-way between their religious lives and personal lives.
“There are over 80 percent of the Jewish population in Brevard County who are not affiliated. There has to be a way to reach them. What are we not providing that we could be? I have some crazy, ‘out there’ ideas. We just had a service outdoors this past weekend which for us is definitely moving outside the box,” Rabbi Mayers said.
Rabbi Mayers also plans to have a service at Wickham Park in the fall and incorporate some interfaith ideas with Temple Israel of Brevard County. Other ideas, including offering yoga classes, to help foster a more sociable atmosphere are not beyond Rabbi Mayers' methods of engagement with the local Jewish population.
“We intend to be a home for anyone anywhere they are in their Judaism. We’re aligned with the conservative movement but there are no judgments made about anyone who comes here,” Rabbi Mayers said. “We want to connect people with this beautiful heritage that people are, unfortunately, finding less and less time for.”